As you could probably write a whole book about this venue, I am going to just outline the very practical aspects of a visit to Cheltenham, both for a meeting like the November event and the festival.
Birmingham is the most convenient airport, or Bristol if you really had no other option. You can reach Cheltenham Spa station, direct from Birmingham airport usually with just one change of train. Cheltenham Spa station is a little distance from the town itself, and is definitely a cab ride if you are going straight to the course. However on the big days, the station is served by special race day buses.
If you are planning to go to the festival in any given year, you would need to be thinking about the next year’s accommodation no sooner than the current festival has finished, or even before that. Such is the demand, perennial racegoers just book year on year, hence the accommodation that is left is hyper price inflated, especially for Cheltenham town itself.
Other location options can include: Gloucester, Tewkesbury, the Cotswolds – covers a broad area of villages and small towns, Cirencester. And then the really outlying areas would be places like Bristol, Stratford-Upon-Avon, Oxford, which people/companies still tout as suitable places to be based from. They’re really not, unless you’re part of a tour group which has a bus of you going to the track each day.
For the November meeting, accommodation is still at a premium, but more readily available and in the preferred locations of Cheltenham itself, Gloucester etc.
There are 3 enclosures at Cheltenham: Club, Tattersalls and the Best Mate enclosure (locally known as the cabbage patch…).
Club and Tattersalls give you access to the parade ring, the Best Mate enclosure is opposite the stands. In 2020, Club badges were about £85 for the festival each day, bought in advance or £100 on the day and slightly more for Gold Cup day. For the November meeting they are in and around £30-35 per day for Club.
Ample facilities across all enclosures. Centaur is the flagship bar in Tattersalls. The Guinness Village is available to Club badge holders, but not for the faint-hearted and only really appeals, if you want to listen to Irish music, drink all day and not see a horse in the flesh.
Do be prepared to queue at all times – to place a bet, buy food and drink, unless it’s early in the day.
Do be prepared to stand for most of the day, unless you get there early and command a table for the day, (if you’re with a group) – or of course you are fortunate to enjoy hospitality.
Do be prepared to pay top dollar for any sort of drink, hot or cold. The quality of food offered has improved over the years, but it is still artificially expensive.
Availability of toilets has vastly improved down the years and in 2020, I did not have to wait on any occasion.
Both at the festival and at the November meeting there is a very good shopping village, but it’s not selling your arts and crafts type goods, it’s high-end clothing, jewellery. art and other luxury items, although do pick up a pack or two of Injured Jockey Christmas cards at the November meeting!
At the end of the day
During the festival there are buses running on the loop back into Cheltenham town centre and onwards to the train station. There is a taxi rank, but of course it is over subscribed.
You can easily walk back into Cheltenham town centre in about 15-20 minutes and it’s all downhill on the way back!
I’m a bit long in the tooth now for the general night scene that Cheltenham has to offer, but am reliably informed that the legendary ’21’ Club (Regent Street), is still highly popular with racegoers and jockeys alike.
Cheltenham has plenty of bars and restaurants. Important to note that the town is divided into 2 halves – the main town centre, where the aforementioned ’21’Club is and then an area which is called Montpellier, which starts just North of the equally legendary Queens Hotel. The Queens Hotel used to very much THE meeting point, but I believe it has lost some of it’s gloss down the years.
Montpellier’s most consistently popular haunt is the Montpellier Wine Bar. There are a good few bars and restaurants up here and it is slightly less raucous than the main town.
A slightly less well-known area, is the Bath Road/Suffolk Parade area. Not a lot of people would head there, but there are a few bars, quite a few Indian/Asian restaurants, as well as high-class establishments such Le Champignon Sauvage. Morans on the Bath Road is good reliable, affordable option and we just walked in without a booking after racing. Another good spot in this area is the Daffodil – a restaurant in a former Art Deco style cinema.
You won’t have to go out of your way to find it!!!
If going to the festival, you need to be in the fullest of health as it’s a gruelling time, but I cannot adequately articulate how truly wonderful the whole experience is. The old cliche ‘there’s nothing like it’ often attributed when people talk about the festival is absolutely true. The anticipation and excitement are on a totally different richter scale.
The November meeting – the Saturday can be a very messy day, the Friday and Sunday are good days to go, to get a better appreciation of what Cheltenham racecourse and indeed Cheltenham has to offer.
ENJOY AND ENJOY!!!